Penn looking for first win ever against Villanova

Posted: September 21, 2012

SINCE TEMPLE and Villanova won't play one another again until at least 2017, maybe Penn-Villanova can at least become the interim "Mayor's Cup" game.

Hey, they've played every year since 2004, mostly at Franklin Field, usually in front of decent crowds. And although Penn has lost all 10 meetings in the last 13 seasons, many have been tight. In 2009, when Villanova beat Temple and won an FCS national title, it was 14-3. A year later, when the Wildcats (who would get to the semifinals) were ranked No. 1, it was 22-10. Four of the games from 2004 to '08 were decided by seven or fewer, with three going literally down to the end of regulation or overtime.

But Penn, which doesn't have athletic scholarships, still hasn't beaten Villanova since 1911.

"Compared to the Ivy League, it's a step up in competition for us," Penn senior running back Lyle Marsh said. "But we always play with them. We just can't seem to find a way to finish it off late.

"It would be absolutely huge for us [to finally beat them]. We'd be the first, in a long time. But the goal is still to win the Ivy League. This is a bonus game for us. It's bragging rights in Philadelphia . . .

"The bottom line is we've lost. That gets frustrating, because we know we can play at that level."

This is just the third time that two FCS coaches with 220 career wins will face one another. Al Bagnoli, who will be on the sideline for the 200th time at Penn, has 222 in 295 games. That's the highest active winning percentage in FCS. His counterpart and friend, Andy Talley, has 220 in 357. The last time it happened was 2007, with Dayton's Mike Kelly (245 at the time) and Albany's Bob Ford (225). The other was Grambling legend Eddie Robinson (308) and Tennessee State's John Merritt (228) in 1983.

The Wildcats are 2-1 (1-0 in the Colonial Athletic Association), after going 2-9 a year ago. Penn opened with a seven-point loss at Lafayette in which it trailed by 21 early and committed eight turnovers.

"This is a great game for us to figure out if we're improving," Talley said. "The Temple game [opening 41-10 loss] for us is a fun game. We're not expected to win. So whatever happens is good, as long as we don't come out of it with too many injuries. This game is a critical indicator of what we can do in our league.

"I think people in the know, in the football world, know what we're up against."

Villanova is probably a year away. Yet, if it has any chance of getting back to the playoffs, it really needs to get this one again.

Being in the Ivy League, Penn can't go to the postseason. But it doesn't want to start 0-2 for the fifth time in 6 years.

"Our kids recognize the athlete we're playing against," Bagnoli said. "The numbers are what they are. It goes back to having a very small margin for error. It's a good rivalry. For the most part, it's been interesting. We like playing them. If we can do it well against Villanova, we should be able to do it well against anybody in our league.

"We need a couple of breaks. I tell Andy that all the time. We've had the opportunity. We've never been able to make quite enough plays, over the course of 160 snaps . . . You have to be careful you don't put too much stock in it. I think Andy would agree. Ultimately, [this] isn't what either of us is getting paid to [accomplish]."

But it sure would make for a satisfying addition to an already-loaded resume.

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